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Unions and the Climate Justice Movement

By Steve Ongerth - IWW Environmental Unionism Caucus, October 7, 2015

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

Where does the union movement stand on the issue of climate justice? The answer to that question is not entirely simple. First of all, it's important to understand the differences between revolutionary unions (most of which are syndicalist--such as the CNT, FAI, SAC--or Marxist--such as NUMSA--in their orientation, or some hybrid inclusive of both and more--such as the IWW) and mainstream reformist unions, such as the AFL-CIO.  For most revolutionary unions, climate justice is an inherent part of the struggle to overthrow capitalism, abolish wage slavery, and create a new society within the shell of the old. For example, the IWW has organized an environmental unionism caucus that dedicates itself to climate justice and other ecological issues. The South African union, NUMSA, is a supporter of Trade Unions for Energy Democracy (TUED)1 and has issued a statement calling for the end to the "Mineral Industrial Complex" (even though they represent mine workers) in favor of renewable energy.

Where the reformist unions (sometimes called "business unions" or "class collaborationist" unions by their detractors) stand varies widely, and to be accurate, some of these "reformist" unions have more (or less) "revolutionary" orientation within the spectrum of the mainstream labor movement. While many still believe that capitalism can be reformed, the evolving realities of capitalism--which is becoming extremely repressive as it imposes increasingly crushing austerity upon the working class--the ever heightening urgency of addressing capitalist induced global warming, and the increasingly impossible-to-ignore realities of police violence, movements like Black Lives Matter, and other social issues are driving many unions to question their adherence to it, beyond the mere rank and file militants within each of them.

One would expect the Building Trades and most heavy industry based unions in the United States, many of which are still largely dominated by white male workers, to be least supportive of climate justice (or even likely to swallow the rhetoric of climate denialism) and conversely expect the service unions, many of which are predominantly composed of women and People of Color to be most supportive of it, and in some cases that's true, but not always! The actual "geography" of where unions stand on climate justice is actually quite complex2, inconsistent, and in some instances contradictory.  Sorting it out completely is well beyond the scope of this article, but it is illustrative to cover some general ground and cite a few interesting examples.

Youth encircle Tagami’s Rotunda building to launch #DeCOALonize Oakland boycott

By staff - No Coal in Oakland, November 21, 2017

“We are the children-
The mighty, mighty children!”

This chant rang out as about 80 people encircled the Rotunda Building, half of them young people, mostly of elementary school age, with placards proclaiming “Boycott the Rotunda,” “Youth vs. Coal,” and “DeCOALonize Oakland.”

“Hey hey ho ho
Dirty coal has got to go.”

The practice picket line was part of the November 21 DeCOALonization action organized by young people, with support from Climate Workers and other groups including No Coal in Oakland. This was a launch of the boycott of the Rotunda Building: asking organizations—particularly social justice nonprofits—to stop using the event venue owned by Phil Tagami and to notify him that they are boycotting this space until he drops his lawsuit aiming to reverse Oakland’s ban on coal.

Speakers included several youth, with messages about the dangers of pollution and—considering that Thanksgiving is approaching—support of Indigenous people. Labor was also represented by a speaker from Unite HERE Local 2850, which organizes hospitality workers. She pointed out that the Rotunda Building uses non-union labor and encouraged groups to find a unionized event space through fairhotel.org.

After picketing, the demonstrators enjoyed a meal that included soup and corn bread prepared by the activist youth. In contrast to the fancy events in the Rotunda, the demonstrators fed community members who came up to the tables clearly in need of good nutrition.

If you want to help contact organizations about the boycott, please e-mail NoCoalInOakland [at] gmail [dot] com.

Photo credit: Sunshine Velasco from Survival Media Agency

An Open Letter to Developer Phil Tagami

By Ted Franklin - No Coal in Oakland, April 7, 2017; image by Brooke Anderson

On Saturday, April 8, the Alameda Labor Council will sponsor a Labor, Climate & Jobs Forum with plenary and workshop sessions devoted to how Unions are addressing climate and environmental challenges by organizing workers and communities.  Speakers will include Josie Camacho, executive secretary-treasurer, Alameda Labor Council; Kathyrn Lybarger, president, California State Federation of Labor; Cesar Diaz, State Building and Construction Trades Council; and Carol Zabin, UC Berkeley Labor Center Green Economy Program.

The Forum follows the Labor Council’s pathbreaking support for the No Coal in Oakland campaign.  In September 2015, in one of the first actions by any labor council in the United States to oppose a developer’s plans on environmental grounds, the Alameda Labor Council passed a resolution calling on Mayor Libby Schaaf, the Oakland City Council, and the project developers “to reject the export of coal through the Oakland Global project, to not take funds from Utah to secure use of the terminals for coal, and to execute a binding agreement or adopt an ordinance that will bar export of coal from this public land.”

With strong support from Labor, faith, environmental, and community organizations, the Oakland City Council banned the storage and handling of coal in the City of Oakland by adopting an ordinance prohibiting bulk storage and handling of coal within Oakland’s city limits.

The City supported its decision by reviewing extensive evidence of serious local health and safety impacts that would result from locating a large coal export facility in West Oakland as well as disastrous effects on global climate that would result from burning the vast quantities of coal that would be shipped overseas.

Communities Unite to Fight Coal in Oakland

By Eric K. Arnold - Reimagine, March 2016

Coal, once the staple of American industrial production, may be on its last legs. With domestic production showing a long-term decline, the fossil fuel’s days appear to be numbered.

According to the most recent annual report [1] of the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), in 2013, U.S. coal production fell below two billion short tons for the first time in two decades; coal mining capacity decreased, as did the average number of coal mine employees, the average sales price of coal, and total U.S. coal stocks. In April of 2015, the EIA projected coal would hit a 28-year low, reflecting significant drops in domestic demand and exports. In August, Goldman Sachs divested itself of its coal holdings; a month later, it issued a gloomy forecast[2] for coal’s future, stating, “the industry does not require new investment,” dashing hopes for a miraculous upturn in the coal market. A report[3] by the Carbon Tracker Initiative (CTI) noted that 26 domestic coal companies have recently gone into bankruptcy proceedings; and coal’s value on the Dow Jones index dropped by 76 percent between 2009-14 (a period when the overall Dow index went up 69 percent).

According to CTI, domestic energy generation has remained flat for the past decade but energy sources have shifted: coal and oil are down, but natural gas and renewable energy are up. America’s largest coal producers are recording annual losses in the billions of dollars, while Chinese coal demand has slumped and new environmental regulations[4] aimed at significantly reducing air pollution and increasing wind and solar consumption are being phased in by the Chinese government. Additionally, all federal coal leasing is currently under moratorium until a comprehensive review can be completed. As the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) noted[5] in its online magazine, OnEarth, “it would be difficult to overstate the industry’s current distress.”

This is scary news for the coal industry, yet a welcome announcement for environmentalists who have waged national campaigns against coal for decades. These desperate times for coal producers have led to desperate measures. Their last hope, it would seem, is to increase coal’s export capacity by transporting the black gunk through West Coast ports. But even there the pro-coal forces have met with unexpected resistance, as city after city in Oregon and Washington have mounted grassroots campaigns to deliver an emphatic message: “Say no to coal.”

Unions representing 4.6 million workers have joined TUED

By Sean Sweeney - Trade Unions for Energy Democracy, January 3, 2016

Note: The IWW is not an affiliate of Trade Unions for Energy Democracy, or any of its affiliate unions, and this article is posted here for information purposes only:

The final months of 2015 saw a large growth in support for TUED in the US and UK

In the final months of 2015, seven unions representing approximately 4.6 million workers have joined Trade Unions for Energy Democracy.  Five of the unions are from the US and two are from the UK.

Screenshot 2015-10-11 13.39.10In a letter dated October 1, 2015, the General Secretary of the UK union Transport Salaried Staffs’ Association, Manuel Cortes, informed TUED that the decision to participate in TUED had been made by the union’s Executive Committee. TSSA is a 22,000 member union representing drivers working for railway companies, shipping companies, bus companies, travel agencies, airlines, call centers, and IT companies in the UK and Ireland.

unison-logo-tued

On October 7th, the policy committee of the UK’s second largest union, UNISON (1.3 million members) also agreed to participate in TUED. UNISON represents workers in a range of public services and hosted a TUED meeting in London on November 27 prior to COP 21 in Paris.  UNISON’s 2014 Warm Homes Into the Future report has drawn attention to the important role of energy conservation in the residential sector both for reducing energy use and for creating jobs. In a statement on the report, UNISON national officer Matt Lay said, “We need to lead the energy agenda and we are in a key position to achieve this.”

Screenshot 2015-10-11 13.42.22In the United States, the United Electrical Workers (UE) has also joined TUED, by way of a resolution passed at its 74th national convention in August 2015. The UE represents roughly 35,000 workers in companies like General Electric, and also newly-formed worker cooperatives, such as the Republic Windows and Doors in Chicago.

The resolution, “Protect our Planet for Future Generations”, endorsed TUED and other “worker-oriented efforts to address climate change.” The resolution called for “public ownership of the energy industry and for massive investments in renewable energy.”

NEA logo_horiz_CMYK.2

Also in October, the US’ largest union, the National Education Association (2.9 million members) joined TUED. The union has been supporting teachers with lesson guides on climate change. Another education union, the Professional Staff Congress, which represents 25,000 faculty and research staff working for the City University of New York, joined TUED in November.

nysutunited_150401_psccuny_01

Education unions from Australia, Romania, the US and the UK are now part of TUED, as is their global union federation, Education International (EI.) At its quadrennial world congress in July 2015, resolutions were passed to make sustainable development and climate change one of EI’s priorities in the coming years.

CA_C_57_logo

In late November 2015, District Council 57 AFSCME joined TUED. The union represents 25,000 workers in schools and community colleges, transit agencies, public works and services, clinics and hospitals, and water and wastewater facilities throughout Northern California and the Central Valley.

Screenshot 2016-01-02 12.20.17

Finally, in early December the 270,000 member union UNITE-HERE joined TUED.  The union represents workers in the US and Canada in the hotel, gaming, food service, manufacturing, textile, distribution, laundry, transportation, and airport industries. At the global level,UNITE-HERE has played a leading role in major campaigns around domestic workers and textile workers’ struggles in countries like Bangladesh. Ashwini Sukthankar,  Director of the Global Campaigns Department, will represent UNITE-HERE on TUED’s Global Advisory Group.

Green versus Yellow Unionism in Oakland

By Steve Ongerth - IWW Environmental Unionism Caucus, November 11, 2015

Author's Note: This article is a sequel of sorts to my previous piece, Unions and the Climate Justice Movement, which briefly mentions the No Coal in Oakland campaign. The image, depicted at the right, compares a pro-capitalist-logging poster (yellow, near right) ostensibly created by timber workers (but actually crafted by the employers) to mobilize support for a counter-demonstration to a rally and march, held in Fort Bragg in July 1990, organized by the Redwood Summer coalition (which included timber workers). The green poster (far right), represents the Redwood Summer coalition's response, and accurately summarizes their position on timber workers and timber jobs.

At first glance, the Oakland City Council meeting, held on September 21, 2015 looked much like many public hearings where public opposition had organized in response to the plans, practices, or proposals of capitalist interests that threatened the environment. For most of the evening, and well into the night, council members and the Mayor watched and listened as speaker after speaker (out of a total of over 500) either spoke in favor (or against) coal exports or ceded their time to their allies. On one side were a widely diverse group of activists, organized by a coalition known as No Coal in Oakland-- adorned in red (union made and printed) T-shirts--opposed to plans to export coal through a proposed Oakland Bulk and Oversized Terminal (OBOT), as part of the Oakland Global Trade and Logistics Center (or Oakland Global), and on the other were the project's supporters, dressed in business attire accompanied by several dozen union workers, many of them from the Laborers' Union, dressed in yellow.  As is often the case, the project's supporters tried to frame the opposition as being composed of insensitive outsiders, and themselves and the supporting "workers" as placing the economic interests of Oakland and its residents above all else. "We support good paying union jobs that will help the struggling, predominantly African-American residents of west Oakland" opined the supporters, trying to suggest that those in opposition didn't.

This is an old, and shopworn script, that has been trotted out numerous times in the past quarter century or more. Anyone who has experienced or studied the "Timber Wars" that took place in the Pacific Northwest during the late 1980s and early-to-mid 1990s will recall the armies of loggers and mill-workers decked out in yellow shirts, sporting yellow foam car radio antennae balls or yellow ribbons who would show up en massé (at the behest of their employers, often with pay) to oppose limits to clear-cutting or protections for the Northern Spotted Owl and to denounce (often) green shirted environmentalists as "unwashed-out-of-town-jobless-hippies-on-drugs" and/or upper middle class "elitists" (or--defying logic--both). Sometimes, in drawn out campaigns, the employers have often furthered this illusion by creating false front "Astroturf" groups, ostensibly composed of workers, to distract attention away from themselves.

The truth is far much more complex and nuanced, of course. Usually the "jobs" promised by the projects' supporters often don't materialize (indeed, the opposite--namely automation, downsizing, and outsourcing--usually occurs). Those in opposition to environmentally destructive practices and proposals are usually composed of and led by locals, most of whom are, themselves, gainfully employed, and sympathetic to the needs and concerns of the affected workers (in fact, the opposition's counter proposals, if well thought out, do more to create "jobs" and job security than those in support of the project). Meanwhile, the actual level of support among the rank and file workers purportedly backing up the capitalists interests could accurately be described as a mile wide and an inch deep, at best. And the bosses? When they speak of jobs, they actually refer to profits. Nevertheless, in the past, the capitalist media has typically and dutifully reported that these projects are opposed by "green clad environmentalists" (or red in this particular case) and supported by "yellow clad workers" (often neglecting to draw any distinction between the workers and their employers).

Therefore, it is both surprising and refreshing, that in spite of the attempts by the employing class to replay that same script on September 21, 2015 in Oakland, the attempt backfired, due to the diligent and tireless organizing by their grassroots opposition. A closer examination of what happened, and how the opposition organized, will illustrate why this is so and how others can duplicate the organizers' efforts to defeat further attempts by capitalist interests to use divide and conquer tactics to push their climate and environment (not-to-mention job) destroying projects through.

Unprecedented? Unions and community unite to halt plans to build coal export terminal in Oakland, California

By Elena Mora - Trade Unions for Energy Democracy, October 9, 2015

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

A short but well-organized campaign to stop plans to build a coal export terminal in the Oakland Port resulted in a packed Oakland City Council meeting on September 21, and a vote requiring a public health impact study to guide the Council’s action, up to and including a moratorium on coal.

Screenshot 2015-09-26 10.47.56The campaign, “Coal Free Oakland,” led by the Sierra Club and others, brought together a very broad coalition (more than 80 organizations), with significant union participation, including the Alameda Labor Council, which passed a resolution calling on the city to reject the coal export plan.

Among those coordinating the labor outreach was Climate Workers, a project of Movement Generation Justice & Ecology Project.

Labor and climate justice organizer Brooke Anderson, who heads up Climate Workers, called it “hugely significant — precedent setting — that labor came out in this way and opposed coal coming through the neighborhoods where their members live.” Unions signing on to the petition against the coal facility include the California Nurses Association; SEIU 1021 and United Service Workers West; the American Postal Workers Union (Oakland’s largest post office is next to the port); ILWU Local 10, Local 6 and Northern California District Council; UniteHERE Local 2850; the Peralta Federation of Teachers; the Oakland Education Association; UAW Local 2865; the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 192; and AFSCME District Council 57.

A win for Pittsburgh public transit

By Paul Le Blanc and Jonah McAllister-Erickson - Socialist Worker, August 5, 2015

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

The authors of this article are long-time members of Pittsburghers for Public Transit; views expressed here are not necessarily those of the organization as a whole.

SINCE PORT Authority of Allegheny County (PAAC) cut 15 percent of its service, residents of Baldwin, Mooncrest and Groveton--working-class suburbs of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania--had to walk two miles, over roads with no sidewalks, just to catch the bus.

But on September 8, Baldwin residents active in the struggle of "Buses for Baldwin" and Groveton residents who pushed for service in their county housing authority will be riding the first restored buses, celebrating the sweetness of the victory.

The battle for public transit has been often been an uphill struggle under both Democratic and Republican administrations at the city, county, state and federal levels. Lessons from the Pittsburghers for Public Transit (PPT) campaigns might be useful for others struggling for economic justice today and tomorrow.

Amalgamated Transit Union President Larry Hanley has pointed to Pittsburghers for Public Transit as a model for those defending public transit throughout the country, especially for the ways the organization unites transit riders and workers in its campaigns.

Since the 1980s, business interests and the right wing have crusaded for even more aggressive policies of laissez-faire capitalism (sometimes called neoliberalism). Public services--won over the years through struggles by working people--have been the target of late. Their successful efforts have cut funding for public transit systems, public education, public housing, public parks and libraries, the public postal service and more.

This, combined with a push to lower taxes for the rich and stagnant or diminished wages of working people, resulted in a shrinking tax base that often made public services shabby and inadequate. Right-wing ideologues create the problem, then insist that "privatization" and "market mechanisms" are the solution. But this makes things worse--capitalism functions not to meet the needs of the majority of people, but to maximize profits for private business owners.

The Pittsburgh Port Authority, in consultation with an "economizing" Democratic County executive, Dan Onorato, had already made severe cuts in 2007, and in 2010 approved a new 15 percent cut in service. In autumn 2010, Tom Corbett, a conservative Republican candidate promising pro-business tax cuts and budget tightening, ran for governor of Pennsylvania. His Democratic opponent was the very same Allegheny County executive who had twice cut public transit service. The Republican won.

In January 2011, budget proposals by Gov. Corbett projected an additional 35 percent cut in Pittsburgh's transit service. Right-wing elements argued that transit workers had been too greedy, that public transit was inefficient and unsustainable, and that privatization would provide a solution.